Friday, November 09, 2018

Signs

One of our one-percenters was flying into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and she snapped a photo of all the land that lay undeveloped along the glide path of her plane. In typically Kenyan fashion, our one-percenter had this to say,
"Excellent landing & service @KenyaAirways as we returned from SA. I pondered as I captured the approach on the 'idle land' around the capital @UKenyatta @Sonko Lets build 'decanting sites' on unutilised land to deliver #AgendaHousingKe"
It's typically Kenyan to have an epiphany that almost always calls for A Simple Solution. Our one-percenter epitomises the tyranny under which Kenyans have suffered for decades. Nairobi has a housing shortage. Nairobi and its environs have "idle" land. Therefore, build on that idle land and the housing shortage will disappear. The nitty-gritty of public policy that underpins all successful public programmes isn't even hinted at. Instead, we are reminded again and again that world class cities like New York, London, Seoul, Tokyo, Mumbai and Buenos Aires have no idle land near any of their major civilian airports, as if Nairobi can measure up to these cities in terms of even the most basic of services for the vast majority of its residents who are overwhelmingly not one-percenters.

We have witnessed how harrowing lives can be made when policies are made, imposed and implemented without proper planning. Devolution of public health services(save for those services offered by national referral hospitals) comes to mind. A combination of factors have contributed mightily to the disaster unfolding in delivery of public health services. The resistance from ministry mandarins loath to give up their power to the chicanery of ministers, their loyal underlings and the satellite of buzzards they all seem to attract has led to one public health disaster to another culminating in the employment, at exorbitant public expense, foreign doctors to serve hard-struck Kenyans.

If the same cavalier attitude is brought to "affordable" housing, a "development" sector that is synonymous with grand corruption, "decanting sites" will become permanent "informal" settlements and whatever plan there might have been to ensure that as many Kenyans afford decent housing will go up in the same puff of smoke that "mobile clinics" went up in.

It is, of course, the responsibility of elected representatives to highlight public policy issues that appear to have been given short shrift by members of the executive. It is not the responsibility of elected representatives to become cheerleaders for every cockamamie scheme to finagle ever more billions from the national treasury at the people's expense. It has been more than a year since our one-percenter made it to the National Assembly. Her tenure is notable for her social media presence. It is, though, devoid of any tangible successes, programmes or policy proposals. She is not the only one. If the future mother-of-all-scams, #AgendaHousingKe", gets off the ground because she and her parliamentary colleagues were busy fantasising about "decanting sites" on "idle" land, you can't say that you didn't see the signs.

Enough!

Ministers of faith are some of the most bigoted, hateful, moralistic sadists in the universe. And that too knowing that the gods they tend to represent here on Earth are bigoted, hateful, moralistic sadists of note. Every now and then, ministers of faith remind us why the enormous non-statutory power they wield should be taken away once and for all.

This past weekend, a couple that wished to enter the institution of marriage with their eyes wide open had the wind taken out of their sails by an excrementally, monumentally cruel minister of faith. Now, some have argued that when the couple settled for that particular minister of faith, they should have known that when one licks honey from a rose bush, there will be good parts and there will be bad parts and they should have been prepared for all eventualities, as Kenyans are wont to say. However, by all accounts, the happy-till-then couple had complied with the long list of demands the minister of faith had made before officiating at their happy day. They had no way of knowing that caprice would cast a dark cloud over their union and that the minister of faith's pique would not only make their union memorable for all the wrong reasons, but also because of the enormous time and expense that were wasted to indulge his massive ego.

Of course, as is their wont, Kenyans on Twitter were quick to point out two significant statutory mistakes that the minister of faith made: first, he insisted that the couple must undertake an HIV/AIDS test before he could officiate at their wedding. Second, he insisted that he should be notified when they had complied with his demand. By making both demands, the minister of faith committed an offence as set out in section 13 of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2006, which not only make it an offence to compel any person to undertake an HIV/AIDS test but also to use an HIV/AIDS test as a precondition for marriage. What I am 99.99% confident of is that the minister of faith will not be arraigned before any court of law any time soon. Moreover, he will also receive the raucously vocal support of fellow men and women of the cloth insisting that faith-based organisations of Kenya shall continue to play their role in preventing and controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS which, in their circles, have retained the moral-stained stigma against HIV and AIDS that made the disease so difficult to deal with in its early years.
 
We must come to terms with the enormous powers we have granted various social, cultural and statutory institutions because the more powers we grant these institutions, the less free we become, the more oppressed we are. In the dark days of colonial conquest, the colonialist's religion was an excellent tool for the pacification of the indigenous peoples, erasing their cultures and mores, demolishing their social, cultural and political institutions, and imposing the edifices of colonialism that have stood the test of time, with indigenous homeguards being more colonialist than the colonialist himself. None are more colonialist that the colonialist than ministers of faith, who have resisted time and tide as the world around them has evolved beyond their wildest fantasies.
 
This power must be broken before it succeeds in the never-ended colonial endeavour to break us as humans, as a people, as a community. The minister of faith, with his vindictive paternalism, is an example of the kind of power that we must break, break with and break away from. One of the ways we can do so is to prosecute him for his offences. The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2006 is one weapon we can wield against this execrable human as a warning to the rest of the bigots on his side that we shall no longer cower before a man who claims friendship with powerful imaginary friends and attempts to order our lives even to the most intimate and personal degree. It is time we said, "BASTA!"

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Men, really, are trash

One day, we were walking up Muindi Mbingu Street past City Market. She preferred walking on the road, dodging motor vehicles. I though that it was mad to do so. I didn't understand that her risk threshold would be breached if she walked on the pavement. Because I am a man and men don't know jack shit about what it takes for any woman to walk in these here streets of Nairobi.

I have never been catcalled, insulted, groped, assaulted, commented upon or, generally, harassed for walking while male in Nairobi. She has. Dozens upon dozens of times. And given how much of the available pavement space has been commandeered by "hawkers" and beggars, and the ever-rising population of pedestrians, she has been on the receiving end of a stream of harassment that I will never, ever experience. So it makes sense for her to walk on the road, dodging matatus, private cars, the occasional parking boy and glue-sniffing, shit-slinging chokora. The risk of getting run down by a motorist is preferable to the harassment that has, in the past, escalated to outright violence.

We have called for a better design for non-motorised transport in Nairobi but because the decisions are made by men who will never experience what women experience on the daily, it is almost certain that change will not come any time soon. Public architecture and civil engineering in Nairobi is predominantly driven by how the world is seen by men and because of it, women pay a heavy price - including being unfairly judged as being reckless when traversing Nairobi's streets and dodging its unhinged population of motorists that seem hellbent in violating even the unread bits of the Traffic Act.

Well, no more! I will not stand in judgment when I see women take risks to avoid being harassed and assaulted on our crowded city pavements. I will, instead, do my bit to push those that make policy, design and build public spaces to take into account the needs of women. Between the aggressively wandering hands of men and the diesel-belching Rukagina Sacco behemoths of Ronald Ngala Street, I now have a slight inkling of why women prefer the latter. Men, really, are trash

Monday, November 05, 2018

Rigged against them all

The national examinations system is designed to bring out the worst instincts among Kenyans regardless of their age, academic status or station in life. The public education system is designed to encourage the basest instincts among Kenyans. The combination of the two - the education system and the examinations system - are a cocktail that brings tragedy to may families in predictable ways.
Last weeks, hundreds of thousands of teenagers sat for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations in the presence of armed and uniformed police officers, one more reason to remember that the Government of Kenya really does not understand anything to do with the rights of the child enshrined in the Constitution, the Children Act or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also reported that dozens of children preparing to sit, or sitting, for the examinations did so immediately after they had given birth, further proof that not only doesn't the Government not understand anything to do with the rights of the child but that it does not actually care to protect the rights of the children of Kenya. I am almost certain that the same will be witnessed in the next three weeks as children undertake the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.

If you intend to undertake a degree at any university in Kenya, you must attain a certain academic grade in your basic education. The most recognised entry examination to universities in Kenya is the KCSE, though international equivalents are offered such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE by many private learning institutions. The KCSE is only offered once a year; if you do not obtain the minimum grade, you must wait a whole year to sit for the exam afresh. There are no equivalency examinations offered by Government: the KCSE is the be all and end all of university-entry examinations.As such, it offers rent-seekers great opportunities to suborn and subvert it, and further the corruption of the soul of the nation.

From the moment a child is enrolled in Standard 1 in a public school, the road leads first to a "national" school and, from the successful few, to a "good" public university (state-owned and state-supported university), of which the premier ones are the University of Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural Technology and the Kenyatta University, though their glory days have receded quite far into the past for anyone to seriously consider them the elite of the elite anymore. (In my opinion, why anyone would willingly subject themselves to the academic ministrations of Moi University or Pwani University defeats logic at a visceral level.) For the few with dollops of donor-dollars (or the local equivalent, tenderpreneurship-fuelled dollars), all roads lead to Strathmore University. But I digress.

If your talent lies in athletics, or the visual or performing arts, a reasonable KCSE grade will allow you to leave secondary school without being scorned and may relieve you, more often than not, of the burden of a university degree. The disciplined services will always hanker after the former while Kenya's budding art scene offers opportunities for the latter. But if your destiny is a white-collar job with a well-paying employer, a university degree is de rigueur and a post-graduate degree inestimably helpful. The numbers of those seeking white-collar success (and the respect it seemingly brings with it) have been increasing by multiples of factors for decades. So have the academic buccaneers hell-bent on turning the screws to the desperate and earning a fast shilling with the conscience of a sicario.

One of the ways I believe we can ameliorate the situation is for Government to offer the KCPE and the KCSE more than one once in a year - three times, in my opinion, would be extremely helpful. This would offer those wishing to re-sit the exams immediate opportunities to improve their last grade. It would also excuse new parents from having to juggle the emotional, psychological and physiological aftermath of childbirth with the emotionally-draining once-and-for-all national exam pressures that few teenagers are well-equipped to handle. Finally, it would finally force Governemnt to re-think its entire approach to the use of examinations to determine the overall level of learning of young persons and, I hope, instead, offer new ways of educating our children and offering them opportunities for their future that are not tied so tightly to a certificate that has been hijacked by a well-connected few.
In my estimation, the last three education ministers (including the incumbent) never understood what it takes to improve an education system. All they obsessed over were overall KCSE and KCPE grades and the the reduction of cheating in national examinations at all costs. The new curriculum being pioneered in the teeth of opposition from well-informed and qualified educators and the now-complete militarisation of national exams continue to remind us that men and women with a police mindset are always ill-suited to the task of the education of the young - they will always see total obedience and good grades as national goals to be pursued to the total exclusion of reason or the welfare of the children their policies affect.

I fear that incumbent education minister and her predecessors have laid the foundation for two generations of lost children who will be more easily pliable in the un-soft hands of a carceral state hell-bent on cheating the people out of their natural endowments. It will all end in the utter ruination of the people.

Eulogy for the rule of law

According to google, a "habit" means "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up". We know that habits can be either good or bad. One of the worst habits we have as Kenyans is the casual manner in which we eschew rules, regulations and petty laws, like the Traffic Act and its regulations. Our bad habits on the road are a symptom of our wider disregard for the dozens upon dozens of statutory and non-statutory rules that order our lives, the aim being to cut corners and shorten deadlines in order to get ahead at the expense of everyone else.

On this Monday's commute, the sum total of our bad habits were in stark relief: long, impatient queues of commuters (where commuters tend to queue) awaiting scarce PSVs and, rather ironically given the scarce PSVs, incredible traffic jams into Nairobi's CBD. PSVs, epitomised by matatus (and the latest matatu iteration, nganyas) have for long faced the brunt of public opprobrium for all that is wrong with road behaviour. In the eyes of seemingly right thinking members of society, matatus are loud, noisy, reckless, extortionate, inconsiderate, dangerous and rude. In sum, matatu culture is the entirety of all the bad habits of matatu operators going back to the day matatus were, in effect, given a free hand to operate in Nairobi.

The antidote to our bad habits on the road, so the nascent fascists in our government (and their boosters in the private sector) would have you believe, were the Michuki Rules, named after the ex-colonial-era provincial administration martinet, the late John Michuki, a former minister of transport, who through sheer will and a ruthless streak, imposed a set of rules that, for a time anyway, made commuting less dangerous and less riddled with bad habits. The late Mr Michuki's rules weren't so much the inculcation of good habits among Nairobi's or Kenya's thousands of drivers and motorists, as they were the imposition of one man's vision of "discipline, in which disproportionate punishments would be imposed on anyone who defied any of the petty new rules made by the man.

An example will suffice. When the Kenya Bus Service was the preferred form of transport for Nairobi's commuters in the 1980s, the design of the buses was simple: two does, front and back, simple seats and enough capacity for standing commuters. KBS buses were not speedily driven and, therefore, did not need seatbelts for seated commuters. Because of the buses's timetables, the buses rarely carried commuters to excess outside of rush hour. Matatus, on the other hand, unconstrained by KBS's terms of its contract with the City Council of Nairobi, hell-bent on turning a fast shilling as quickly as possible, were smaller, were almost always overloaded, were almost always driven with a certain degree of reckless derring-do that appealed to rebellious youth, and almost always ended in tragedy. The "square" commuters who preferred KBS to matatus never had to worry about getting to work on time in relative safety. The "hip" users of matatus knew well enough to keep a watchful eye of the crew they were with and the state of the matatu they rode in. In 2018 the entire PSV sector is a matatu sector; KBS's spiritual successors are no more, not even KBS's actual successor, the KBS Management Services Company Limited.

More and more commuters and PSV operators eschewed the rules that kept everything on an even keel with the individualised desire to get ahead at all costs. The late Mr Michuki treated the symptoms of the disease, not its causes, which were legion. For twenty-four years, government officials had eroded the general respect of the law, enervating public institutions, encouraging petty acts of impunity, ignoring the tenets of decency and courtesy, and celebrating short cuts and quick fixes. In 2018, we are witness to a legacy of chicanery from the highest echelons of public life to the most private aspects of individual behaviour. The latest crackdown on traffic impunity will not last so long as we do not admit to ourselves that the  problem is not the written laws of the state but that our individual and institutional commitment to upholding the rule of law at all times is honoured more in the breach. If we are to succeed, the majority must develop good habits while the minority of scofflaws are shunned or, where they are incorrigible, punished. In other words, most of us must obey the common rules of courteous and decent behaviour, and eschew short cuts and quick fixes. The late Mr Michuki was not public transport's saviour. He was the bell tolling at the march of time marking our fall from grace. His rules were dirge at the funeral of what once was. His rules were the eulogy for the rule of law.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Looking for a legacy

When I was in Standard 3 at Rabai Road primary School, Peter Oloo Aringo was the Minister of Education (this is before we switched prepositions, so bear with me), and Kenya had entered the uncharted waters of Bretton-Woods-prescribed Structural Adjustment Programmes. The expression "cost-sharing", which I didn't understand and still don't, entered the national discourse and my father was told to part with money so that City Hall could build a workshop at Rabai Primary School. The workshop was duly built and when I was in Standard 7 and 8, I spent many, many happy hours in it sawing, planing, sanding and hammering various bits of wood into creations that gave great, great pleasure.

Baba Moi was getting into the swing of things at Harambee House, sprinkling the public service with his favoured political pets, many in high offices where policies were made, unmade and ignored. Few Kenyans appreciated the effect of Baba Moi's version of structural adjustment and few could foresee just how bad things would get by the time Mzee was being given the rudest send-off at the relatively peaceful end of his presidency. What I do remember, even in the midst of the rapid-fire changes, is that all waziris and their senior-most mandarins were driven about in Peugeot 504s, even the Vice-President, the flashiest French import we had at the time.

Not even Mzee saw the political virtues of zipping about in helicopters and a fleet of V8 VXs (though, to be fair to the modern-day waheshimiwa, he didn't need to when Voice of Kenya spent 25 of its allotted 30 minutes singing his praises in increasingly unsubtle ways at 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm. Things were predictable. My workshop was built because Baba Moi decreed that it should be built.

Mzee didn't make promises often. Which comes as a bit of a surprise when I think about it. He almost always directed something to be done and the machinery of Government swung into action. He decreed free milk and soon enough, KCC lorries were delivering orange tetrapaks of Maziwa ya Nyayo. His successors have been mightily unlucky. They couldn't decree anything without appearing foolish. It is why the wonkish Kibaki delegated the arm-twisting and head-knocking to the likes of John Michuki, Chris Murungaru and Martha Karua or charm offensives to the like of the sharp-as-a-tack Mutula Kilonzo and scandal-prone Masaa-ni-ya-Mama Charity Ngilu. Baks's successor doesn't even have a Michuki in his corner; the hard-charging Matiang'i will one day prove to be the millstone that sinks his "legacy" for all eternity.

Mzee may have bankrupted the nation, morally, politically and fiscally, but when you see him lifting rocks above his head in some rural backwater as his Government fights to reverse mmonyoko wa udongo, you remember that the gabions kept you farmhouse from being washed away one more time by raging waters and mud. When you see him set his head back and laugh uproariously at the antics of the Vitimbi cast during some public holiday at the Nyayo National Stadium, you realise that he didn't crush everything underneath his heel. But try as you might, you can't summon the same sense of occasion when you remember Baks's "superhighway" or his successor's "SGR". Instead, it is relentless torrent of bad and worse news connected to the filching of many, many billions that boggle the mind.

Mzee suppressed and oppressed and, ironically, because of his heavy hand, Kenyans and Kenyan communities had a sense of pride when one of their children stood up to him. We feared him. And we suffered for it. But we never held him in contempt even when morally dubious stories about him were whispered in bars and funerals. No one feared Baks. No one fears his successor. Baks has the respect of economists because he managed a minor miracle with the economy, even if he cocked it up in the end. But his successor? Moi gave me a workshop. Baks gave me the opportunity to say mean things about the president without fearing that I would find my gonads in a vice. This one is looking for a "legacy". I fear that he will be unluckiest of them all.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Pufferies of the self-absorbed

"Sometimes though, I get the feeling that we are our own worst enemies. When everything seems to be going well for us, we scatter all to the four winds...The latest example is the call by Kenya Airways crew to go on strike, just as the country was jubilating that a journey of 10 years — for a direct flight to the United States — has come to an end." - nation.co.ke
Have you dreamed of travelling to the USA directly from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport? have you ever thought that, as a national priority, flying directly to the USA came before universal and comprehensive free basic education or an efficient, effective and affordable public healthcare system? When you think of Kenya, do you liken it to other brands like Coca-cola, Blue Band or pornhub.com?

There are many things that are going right with Kenya. Despite the best efforts of the ruling elite, more and more Kenyans are speaking out about the things that matter to the people. Though it may not seem like it, every single Okiya Omtata litigation victory is a good thing; it is among the many ways that Kenyans are building a rule-of-law judicial system.

Despite these, and many other, positive steps, we must also stare the truth in its face: Kenya has a long way to go to shrug off the corruption, tribalism and poverty that stalks the lives of millions of Kenyans. For Kenya Airways, perhaps, direct flights to the USA may prove the tonic needed for it to unwind its ruinous fiscal circumstances but a lifetime of lessons about the false promise of foreign markets tempers our expectations about the chances of a minnow like KQ in the vast, shark-filled ocean of global aviation in which it has floundered again and again and again.

For KQ's boosters to ignore that the company has been consistently and ruinously managed by its succession of politically-appointed managers, and the deleterious impacts of these managers' decisions on the rank-and-file of the company, is to live in an elite bubble of stupefying obscurity. Since the turn of the century, KQ has struggled to do right by its employees even though its managers (and directors) have almost always made off like bandits. The latest threat to strike is not the first and bar some Eastern European miracle, it shall not be last. Instead of captains of industry wringing their hands in despair at the selfishness of KQ's employees, perhaps it is time they started asking the serious questions about the roles of a few robber-barons in the c-suites of the national flag carrier.

Do not hide behind jingoism. I can guarantee, even without the benefit of an opinion poll, that the vast majority of Kenyans don't care all that much about KQ's direct flights to New York. But many of them will feel the righteousness of the demands by KQ employees because many of them are in the same straitened circumstances. The ranks of the poor, the unemployed and those living hand-to-mouth are increasing while the foreign bank accounts of the movers and the shakers continue to fatten. Kenyans will celebrate and jubilate only when they can hold their heads high with pride because they are no longer ashamed of looking their loved ones in the eye because they can't put three square ones on the table every day. International connections are well and good but unless they guarantee decent wages and personal well-being, they are merely the pufferies of the self-absorbed elitist windbags.

The kumira-kumira era is no improvement

Maybe it was intended to troll those Kenyans who had been uncharitable about her qualifications to manage one of Kenya's most important sectors. Maybe. When the Cabinet Secretary for Education declared that her ministry would not allow national exam candidates to be "disturbed" by "prayer days" or "visitors", which would also serve the goal of preventing examinations cheating, I thought that maybe she had forgotten what her role was supposed to be. But it became immediately clear that she was dead serious when the President (and commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces) declared with deadpan seriousness that if a national exam candidate was caught cheating, not only would Government throw the book at him, Government would also revoke the candidate's parents' examination certificates.

The Cabinet Secretary and the President, treading the same path as the immediate former Cabinet Secretary, who now happens to be in charge of the State policing and intelligence machinery, have come to the simple conclusion that the only way to measure educational attainment is by maximising the number of children who sit and pass national exams - and minimising, if not eliminating, the number of children who successfully get away with cheating. If it means jailing children, well, hey, now that we have converted Kenya's prisons into commercial enterprises, they will never want for semi-educated workers, will they?

The prosperity gospel favoured by Christian ministers of faith patronised by many of Kenya's political classes has become a national faith, if not religion. Every public institution is exhorted, with the silent acquiescence of public institutions of conscience, to "maximise revenues" in the light of increasing public debt ( and a ballooning public wage bill). While Government decreed "free" basic education in Government-funded schools on the one hand, it turned the Kenya Prisons service into a commercial enterprise intended to compete with the private sector in agriculture, furniture and handicrafts, and, of course, real estate development. Everything we now do, as a people and as a country, is measured down to the last cent. The results have been stark.

Back when we were a KANU dictatorship, before the Bretton-Woods assassins stuck stilettos in our collective rib-cage, we may have been poor and under the yoke of a fascist ethnic criminal enterprise (from which its victims are still recovering), but we not saddled with an unsustainable public debt that had largely been sequestered in Indian Ocean tax havens of ill repute without a hope of ever being recovered. The KANU mafia had stolen billions but not even them had had the balls to turn public debt into private profit on the scale it has been today. The creeping privatisation of the public service - prisons are just the latest step - is taking on a life of its own and consuming institutions that require the greatest care and protection such as public basic education and public primary healthcare services. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance yet the Cabinet Secretary is determined to provide a path to incarceration for as many young Kenyans as she can - unless they all toe the party line and do as they are told without question or challenge.

Much of what made Kenyans Kenyan is being steamrolled into conformity by the I-know-best attitude of the CS and her Cabinet colleagues and private sector enablers. When you think of the performing arts, benga and rumba, stage plays and poetry, public intellectualism and dissenting public opinion, the way was not lit by the shining lamps of the KANU-ya-jenga-nchi chants, but by the underground streams of protest that refused to be held back, official opprobrium notwithstanding. But with the rise of KANU and KANU-lite apparatchiks, using modern tools of suppression and for shaping public opinion, such as Ezekiel Caesar, the national finger-wagging this-is-un-Kenyan scold, old school performing arts are being suppressed, repressed and erased. And it is being replaced by milquetoast pap designed to pacify, stupefy and terrify while the national treasury is emptied of its last cent and the national silver is bartered to the highest bidder.  No one wants to return to the KANU-ni-baba-na-mama days but make no mistake, the only ones who think that the kumira-kumira era is an improvement are the ones with their twenty fat little fingers and toes in the national cookie jar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Put the people first

An enduring image of Kenyan Government officials whenever they appear at a public event is grey-haired men and matronly women arrayed behind cloth-covered tables, dozens of bottles of water or fresh drinks within reach, under a tent or a covered dais - and the wananchi standing in front of them - or seated on the bare ground - in the open air, whether the weather is inclement or not - and hawkers offering them refreshments at a steep markup, especially for those not foresighted enough to bring their own bottled water or soft drink. The image is always of the watu wakubwa behind an impenetrable, protected barrier and the umma with their noses pressed hard in the window hoping for a glance of power and its trappings.

It is why the image of Gov Kivutha Kibwana on one knee at some ECD event is so shocking, especially remembering he was a Kibaki-Government Minister who at times let ministerial power overwhelm him leading to ridiculous actions. It is also why it is not surprising to see Gov John Lonyangapuo sitting, with his mawaziri, at another ECD event while the children on whose behalf the even was t be held, are either standing or sitting in the dirt. Mr Lonyangapuo is a died-in-the-wool serikali type. Mr Kibwana hopes to shatter the barrier between serikali and the people it serves.

It still shocks my visitors that when they knock and enter, I will stand up from my desk, come round and shake them by the hand - even when I have royally screwed them over regarding their needs. But I see no benefit in treating them as little people when their needs, if addressed, will make things better all around for their underlings, their friends, their families and the like. I can't offer them tea - I don't have a catering allowance - but I will take my time to listen and understand their needs, I will take written notes, and I will ask questions to clarify their points. I will not tell them what to do but offer them advise on how to best solve whatever problem brought them to my office. Most don't notice the effort and that is fine - I still have a salary for doing my job. But the ones who do are discombobulated because in the same building - hell, the same floor - the ukubwa syndrome will leave them with tonnes of anxiety and great feeling of disrespect.

The still-stalled prosecution of the deputy chief justice, the ongoing prosecution of Gov Sospeter Ojaamong and the impending murder trial of Gov Okoth Obado have revealed the deep roots of the ukubwa syndrome in Kenya. Government, in all its manifestations, still resists the centering of people in the manner that it conducts its affairs. The people are to be seen and not to be heard. Government will tell them what they need - and they will like it come hell or high water. When Government does something wrong - when governors steal or commit murder - the people must wait for Government to decide whether or not to investigate the offence, arrest the offenders, try them in courts of law, convict and sentence them, and jail them for their crimes. Th people's vies are not important; the "impact on Government operations" is the be all and end all of it.

Centering humans in public service is the first step to cracking this nut of impunity. Put people at the heart of the work of Government, the actions of Government, the behaviour of Government, and the crimes of Government. If people are the focus, then how the people are affected is vital to designing Government and Government processes. So what of Gov Anne Waiguru wishes for the EACC to "clear" her name over NYS Season 1? Will her cleared name benefit the people? If not, then her fulminations are unimportant - nay, irrelevant. So what that Gov Obado slept on the floor and ate sukuma wiki? Would an a'la carte menu from the Kempinski have benefitted the alleged victims of his crimes? If not, akule mboga na awache kisirani ndogo ndogo.

Gov Kibwana may yet end up as the the exception that proves the rule but so far, in his second incarnation as governor, and the culmination of a long public service career, he has taken humility to depths never seen before by any other public officer. Humility almost always presumes that other people's feelings, needs, experiences, and the like are more important than ones own. Gov Waiguru and the rest of her odious class simply don't think about the people as humans but as targets of political activity, sources of public revenue, victims of Government action and worshipful beneficiaries of Government largesse. They are wrong, of course, and soon enough, Gov Ojamoong and his perfidious colleagues will be out on their ears - for good - and the new Kibwanas will be in charge. That, anyway, is my hope.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Putting the genie back

When I was a child in primary school, I partook of Maziwa ya Nyayo - and loved every cold liquid ounce of it. After all, I was one of the watoto wa Nyayo. I even took part in the 10 Years of Nyayo Era celebrations in 1988 when thousands of children from across the country paraded in splendid colours at the Moi International Sports Stadium in Kasarani. There's photographic evidence of me in my colourful athletic attire somewhere in mum's house. We loved the whole of the experience, especially when we went away to camp at the Kenya Teachers Technical Training College in Gigiri.

Back then, when it was Voice of Kenya and not the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, everything was about Nyayo. He was a constant, reassuring presence. When he urged us to slow down mmonyoko wa udongo by building gabions, he turned up in person to throw in his share of rocks into the soil erosion preventing walls. When he asked us to be good Christians to one another, he did so by praying with us in our churches every Sunday without fail, bible in hand. Nyayo was Moi and Moi was Nyayo.

But even as a child, I knew well enough to be afraid of him and everything about him. You could see it by how even small children knew who in Buru Buru was the "Special Branch" guy among the three that roasted maize by the side of the road. You knew well enough not to say anything bad about Nyayo when in school. You were constantly conscious of the fear that pervaded everything your father did when he went to the office or drove us to shags over the holidays. Nyayo was benevolent most of the time and ruthless whenever it suited his needs. All the Maziwa ya Nyayo in the country couldn't erase the fact that even children knew enough to fear Baba wa Taifa.

I didn't really appreciate how schizophrenic Kenya was until I went to India. Vast, multi-cultural, multilingual and vibrantly, chaotically, loudly, exuberantly democratic, it was an amazing place to learn about dissent, discourse, democracy and politics. I stayed for a long time. I couldn't believe that actual communists won popular elections. Or that many minority communities enjoyed constitutional job quotas in government. It didn't come as a shock that some dissent in India was violent, in which decades of violence had led great misery and death, but that it had stopped intellectuals, artists, novelists and musicians from telling their side of the story. I found it astonishing that the Supreme Court of India had decreed that a state of emergency was unconstitutional, leading to the fall of a government and the jailing of the prime minister. More astonishingly, she had rebounded, and reclaimed her position in the party and in government.

Coming back home three years after Yote yawezekana bila MOI!, I was confronted by the spectre of the Nyayo Era where we would go out of our way to avoid embarassing Government and all its minions, factotums, nawabs and Brahmins. Even Mwai Kibaki's laid back, reticent style didn't hide the fear that still pervaded every facet of our lives. It is why the initial exuberance built on free speech was no longer there. There were many more new subjects which we could publicly explore - including the competence or otherwise of our president - but to suggest that we had to fundamentally reform how we were governed, policed, educated, treated, transported, or informed, were bridges too far. Today, more and more subjects are being effectively outlawed. Moi-ism is creeping back. You can see it in the intensity, and opacity, of the second Kenyatta succession. What we can and cannot say about it is now measured by how many people are afraid to even broach the subject in public, among strangers. The schizophrenia is back.
 
In India, it was clear what a democracy looked like and what a money-focused machine required. In India, even odious politicians needed to sell their politics in the market of political ideas. The most persuasive, not necessarily the best, won. Next door in China, the party is the state and the state is the party and what the state wants is total submission to its will, even among its highest ranking apparatchiks. It is why when one steps out of line, challenges the party's received wisdom, one is punished together with his family, friends and known or suspected associates. So it is no surprise that the Chinese way finds favour with those hell-bent on re-imposing the Nyayo philosophy. They are working overtime to put the post-Moi genie back in the bottle. I will not put it past them to succeed. I really wouldn't.